SLO County claims ‘obvious’ violations at DeVaul’s Sunny Acres

Sunny Acres 2013 vs. 20211

During an inspection of San Luis Obispo rancher Dan DeVaul’s property on Wednesday, code enforcers found obvious violations, a SLO County official said. [Tribune]

DeVaul’s 72-acre ranch lies on the outskirts of San Luis Obispo and contains his Sunny Acres sober-living facility. Sunny Acres houses and provides sober-living services to several dozen low-income residents, many of whom could otherwise face homelessness. 

Amid a previous spat between the county and DeVaul, a 2011 order from a local judge forced the rancher to evict effectively homeless individuals who were deemed to have been staying in non-code compliant structures. Sunny Acres later went into receivership, and then in 2013, DeVaul and the county entered into a stipulated agreement requiring the rancher to comply with various regulations in order to continue his operation. 

In recent months, neighbors made complaints to the county about Sunny Acres. Subsequently, last month, a county official penned a letter to DeVaul stating it suspected individuals are living in non-permitted structures on his property and that non-permitted dumping and grading activity were reportedly occurring near wetlands and Laguna Lake.

On Friday, the county obtained a civil inspection warrant. Then Wednesday morning, code enforcement officers and sheriff’s deputies went onto the property.

During the inspection, officials walked through about a dozen tiny homes. When asked if they found any violations or non-permitted structures, Jon Ansolabehere, SLO County’s chief deputy county counsel, said yes.

It is pretty obvious. None of this stuff is permitted, Ansolabehere said while pointing at the tiny homes.

Officials plan to take an inventory of all noted violations and get in contact with DeVaul and ranch management about what the county believes requires immediate action, Ansolabehere said.

During Tuesday’s SLO County Board of Supervisors meeting, Johnny Rodriguez, the program director for Sunny Acres, spoke during public comment, saying the sober-living facility helps people who have no other means of support. The residents would otherwise be in the streets, under bridges, in creeks, in parks or in jail, Rodriguez said.

A total of 48 people, many of whom are elderly, infirm, mentally ill and in various stages of recovery, could be out on the streets soon, Rodriguez said. The Sunny Acres program director added there is no history of violence or chaos at the ranch, so the prospect of residents being left homeless is mind-boggling.

Rodriguez, along with construction manager David Dieter, answered questions from inspectors on Wednesday. Both arrived at the ranch battling addiction or alcoholism and worked their way up into management positions. 

On Wednesday, Dieter said many Sunny Acres residents did not understand why armed officers were walking around the property, nor were they aware of the lengthy history between the county and the ranch. Many of the residents fear they will be moved off the property with nowhere to go, putting in jeopardy the routines that support their sobriety. 

Residents have made construction improvements over the past four years, including to the main residential building and a new bathroom and shower facility, the construction manager said. Dieter, however, admitted he lives illegally in a trailer on the property. 

The main residential building, too, is not properly permitted because Sunny Acres has been unable to bring potable water into the structure, DeVaul has said. DeVaul has sought to connect the building to the city of San Luis Obispo’s water system and was reportedly refused service. Thus far, individuals living in the building have been using bottled water.